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Ariadne auf Naxos 1999

July 24 - August 26, 1999

What’s a composer to do…

…when his patron demands the impossible?  Accommodate, of course?  Strauss shows how a marriage of convenience between high-brow opera and low-brow comedy can succeed. Invention triumphs and harmony prevails.

Music By
Richard Strauss
Libretto By
Hugo von Hofmannsthal



In the salon of “the richest man in Vienna,” preparations are in progress for a new opera seria based on the Ariadne legend, with which the master of the house will divert his guests after a sumptuous dinner. The Music Master, having heard that a foolish comedy is to follow his pupil’s opera, accosts the pompous Major Domo and warns that the Composer will never tolerate such an arrangement. The Major Domo is unimpressed. No sooner have they gone than the young Composer comes in for a final rehearsal but an impudent lackey informs him that the violins are playing at dinner. A sudden inspiration brings him a new melody, but the Tenor is too busy arguing with the Wigmaker to listen to it. Zerbinetta, pert leader of some comedians, emerges from her dressing room with an Officer just as the Prima Donna comes out asking the Music Master to send for her protector, “the Count.” At first attracted lo Zerbinetta, the Composer is outraged when he learn she and her troupe are to share the bill with his masterpiece. Zerbinetta and the Prima Donna lock horns while dissension spreads. As the commotion reaches its height, the Major Domo returns with a flourish to announce that because of limited time, the opera and the comedy are to be played simultaneously, succeeded by a fireworks display. At first dumbstruck, the artists try to collect themselves and plan: the Dancing Master extracts musical cuts from the despairing Composer, with the lead singers each urging that the other’s part be abridged, while the comedians are given a briefing on the opera’ plot. Ariadne, they learn, after being abandoned by Theseus, has come o Naxos to wait for death. No, says Zerbinetta – she only needs a new lover. The comedienne decides her troupe will portray a band of travelers trapped on the island by chance. Bidding the Composer take heart, he assures him that she, like Ariadne, longs for a lasting romance, but as his interest in the actress grows, she suddenly dashes off to join her colleagues. Now the Prima Donna threatens not to go on, but the Music Master soothes her by promising a triumph, and the heartened Composer greets his teacher with a paean to music. Al the last minute he catches sight of the comics in full cry and runs out in horror.


Ariadne is seen at her grotto, watched over by three nymphs – Naiade, Dryade and Echo – who sympathize with her grief. Enter the buffoons, who attempt to cheer her up, to no avail. As if in a trance, Ariadne resolves to await Hermes, the messenger who will take her to another world, undefiled – the realm of death. When the comedians still fail to divert Ariadne, Zerbinetta addresses her directly, describing the frailty of women, the willfulness of men and the human compulsion to change an old love for a new. Insulted, Ariadne retires to her cave, and when Zerbinetta concludes, her cronies leap on for more sport. Harlequin tries to embrace her while Scaramuccio, Truffaldino and Brighella compete for her attention, but it is Harlequin to whom she at last surrenders. The nymphs return, heralding the approach of a ship. It bears the young god Bacchus who has escaped the enchantress Circe (unchaste love) for Ariadne (purity). Bacchus is heard in the distance, and Ariadne prepares to greet her visitor ­ surely Death at last. When he appears, she at first thinks Theseus has come back to her, but he majestically proclaims his godhood. Entranced by her, he claims he would sooner see the stars vanish than give her up. Reconciled to a new, exalted existence, Ariadne joins Bacchus in an ascent to the heavens as Zerbinetta sneaks in to have the last word: “When a new god comes along, we’re dumbstruck.”


Christine Brewer headshot

Christine Brewer


Ariadne/Prima Donna

Elizabeth Futral headshot

Elizabeth Futral



Erie Mills headshot

Erie Mills



Kristine Jepson headshot

Kristine Jepson


The Composer

John Horton Murray headshot

John Horton Murray


Bacchus/The Tenor

Richard Stilwell headshot

Richard Stilwell


The Music Master

Timothy Nolen headshot

Timothy Nolen


The Major Domo

Nathan Gunn headshot

Nathan Gunn



Wilbur Pauley

Wilbur Pauley



Keith Jameson headshot

Keith Jameson



Gert Henning-Jenson headshot

Gert Henning-Jensen


Brighella/The Dance Master

Tonna Miller headshot

Tonna Miller



Victoria Weil headshot

Victoria Weil



Adina Aaron headshot

Adina Aaron



Randolph Locke headshot

Randolph Locke


An Officer

Patrick Carfizzi headshot

Patrick Carfizzi


A Wigmaker

Andrew Nolen headshot

Andrew Nolen


A Footman

John Crosby headshot

John Crosby


Bruce Donnell headshot

Bruce Donnell


Kevin Rupnik headshot

Kevin Rupnik

Scenic & Costume Designer

Mimi Maxmen headshot

Mimi Maxmen

Costume Designer

Daniel L. Murray headshot

Daniel L. Murray

Lighting Designer

Daniel Pelzig headshot

Daniel Pelzig